“Bright Future” is a recent effort from acclaimed Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, best known for horror films such as “Kairo” and “Cure”. Kurosawa’s films have always had an appeal beyond the genre, mainly due to his measured, philosophical approach, and the way in which he uses his subject matter as a platform for existential musings on the human condition. As such, “Bright Future” is not too much of a departure, being a surreal, almost dream-like tale of urban disillusionment and malaise, played out through the bizarre metaphor of poisonous jellyfish. Unfortunately, this probably sounds a great deal more interesting than it actually is, as the film, whilst thoughtful and undeniably well made, is far too slow and ponderous for its own good, and is ultimately as directionless and vague as its characters.
The film is set in Tokyo’s urban sprawl, focusing upon two young men, Mamoru (the ever prolific Tadanobu Asano, “Zatoichi”) and Nimura (Jo Odagiri, recently in the Takeshi Kitano starring “Blood and Bones”) who work in dead end, part time jobs in a faceless factory. Both seem to be without any kind of ambition or plans for the future, and spend most of their time simply hanging around in silence, or staring at Mamoru’s pet jellyfish, which he is gradually acclimatising to freshwater for some unnamed purpose. After their middle-aged boss offers them full-time employment, as well as trying to become their friend, Mamoru inexplicably kills him, an act which lands him on death row. This leaves Nimura, along with Mamoru’s estranged father to look after the jellyfish and to try and make sense of Mamoru’s actions. However, the pet is accidentally let loose into the city canals, setting forth a series of strange events and odd revelations.
“Bright Future” is a film of quiet anger, of uncaring characters trying to find their place in a modern society which they have little in common with. Although this as a theme is nothing new, Kurosawa tackles it in an interesting way through the jellyfish, whose gradual adaptation to freshwater mirrors the character’s growing acceptance of the world. Of course, at the same time, as beautiful and serene as the jellyfish appears to be, its deadly poison lurks just below the surface, in much the same way as the characters harbour their murderous rage. As a result, the personal journeys undertaken in “Bright Future” are neither comfortable nor obvious, and Kurosawa thankfully steers clear of the cliché of angst-ridden cinema, dealing with the intangible rather than the usual whining of materialistic 20-somethings which tend to populate such films.
The problem with this, and indeed with the film as a whole, is that whilst it is intellectually satisfying, and successfully conveys the experiences of the characters, the story wanders too much to truly engage. Indeed, the narrative feels more like a series of observations or anecdotes rather than an actual plot. Kurosawa, who also wrote the script, does tend to work with an almost documentary-like feel, which has served him well when dealing with films in which things actually happen. However, since very little occurs during the running time of “Bright Future”, the end result is sadly quite dull. Most of the film is taken up with stilted conversations or scenes of characters wandering through the urban landscape, and it is only towards the end when the pace finally begins to pick up.
Matters are not helped by the fact that the characters themselves are sketchily written, and engage only in occasional conversations, which tend to be monosyllabic at best. Although, to be fair, this is quite intentional and in keeping with the aims of the film, the vast tracts of silence mean that the viewer never really gets to know or feel anything for any of the characters or indeed care what happens to them.
Whilst Kurosawa does imbue the film with a rich visual texture, and does include some quite wonderful shots of the jellyfish itself, the film’s ambient atmosphere actually works only to lull the viewer into the same kind of trance that the characters seem to exist in. There is a great deal of cryptic symbolism employed throughout, some of which is quite effective, though unfortunately most viewers will be too busy trying to stay focus to notice.
Although it is undoubtedly refreshing to see the filmic medium being used to deal with philosophical issues in such an intelligent, almost poetic manner, the fact remains that as a film, “Bright Future” is not particularly entertaining. To his credit, Kurosawa has crafted a pretension-free work which certainly makes the viewer think, and to consider their own place in the world. However, as easy as it is to admire “Bright Future” after the fact, its determinedly abstract nature means that it is equally easy to fall asleep while viewing it.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director) / Kiyoshi Kurosawa (screenplay)
CAST: Jo Odagiri …. Yuji Nimura
Tadanobu Asano …. Mamoru Arita
Tatsuya Fuji …. Shin ichiro Arita
Takashi Sasano …. Mr. Fujiwara
Marumi Shiraishi …. Mrs. Fujiwara